By MIKE DILLON
It was 35 degrees celsius when Clayton Chipperfield flew out of Philadelphia on Saturday morning, on his way to New Zealand via Washington.
It was 11 degrees with a wind chill factor of close to zero when he climbed on $100,000 Mercedes Great Northern Steeplechase favourite Golden Flare at the west coast's Karioitahi Beach at 8.30am yesterday.
Chipperfield froze, but he quickly forgot his agony as he gradually got the feel of the horse for whom he made a special trip back to New Zealand to ride today.
"He feels absolutely amazing," said the topline US-based jumps jockey, "better than he did last year - a lot better."
That's great news for those hoping Golden Flare can score a historic win today and join the mighty Hunterville by winning three consecutive Great Northern Steeplechases.
After a long, long hot shower to thaw out, Chipperfield went over the videos of Golden Flare's recent races with trainer Raylene Whiteside.
"He went a pearler in the trial [Great Northern Trial at Ellerslie last start].
"He came home really good and he was the only horse not under the whip."
Chipperfield was also impressed with the trial finishing effort of Wanderlust, the top entry of Ann and Ken Browne, clearly the horse Golden Flare has to beat today.
Wanderlust and Michelle Hopkins are likely to be close to the speed for much of the race this afternoon, but Chipperfield says that won't convince him to change the out-the-back tactics that have won him the race in 2002 and 2003.
"We'll be flopping around out the back as usual.
"With 68kg on his back I don't want to be pushing him too hard too early."
Whiteside has been saying for some time, and Golden Flare's appearance at Monday's media launch confirms it, that the horse has never been in the shape he's in right now.
He looks sharp and keen.
"Hopefully that's a good sign, but tonight I'll worry that he's too fresh and I haven't done enough with him," said Whiteside.
Chipperfield went to Virginia to link with the stable of leading jumps trainer Doug Fout.
The pair had immediate success, Chipperfield landing Hirapour the winner of the US$160,000 Royal Chase, but says he and the trainer did not get on personally and he has shifted to the stables of Kathy Neilson in Philadelphia.
From 30 rides he has picked up five winners, six seconds and four thirds.
"I'll do my five years over there."
Give a lot of respect to the eight riders in today's gruelling steeplechase.
Chief stipendiary steward Noel McCutcheon does.
McCutcheon was a very tidy flat rider who, through bizarre circumstances, found himself in a jumps race one day.
"There were no declared riders in those days.
"I was walking through the birdcage when trainer Ian Bradbury threw me a set of colours and said: 'You're riding my horse Solitude in the steeplechase.'
"I just said: 'yeah, right', but the next thing I know I'm sitting on Solitude in the birdcage."
Long story short, McCutcheon won the race by a margin after which he was swamped with offers of upcoming jumping rides.
"No way," he told everyone, "that's bloody scary stuff out there, no way I'm doing that again."
Clayton Chipperfield faced freezing conditions arriving from the US yesterday.
But he loved the way Golden Flare felt in a beach training effort.
The veteran is in great shape as he attempts to make it three successive Great Northerns.
By MIKE DILLON